it’s true. There are violets
native to tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world.
Hawaii has some lovely and quite unusual species that most people
– including those living there – are totally unaware of.
That is not too surprising, given that violets are more commonly
associated with the cooler areas of the temperate zones of the Northern
Hemisphere. The astounding beauty
and brightness of larger tropical plants would likely eclipse from notice
smaller, more delicate blooms such as violets have.
Aside from that, the majority of Hawaiian violets are indeed different
enough in form as not to be recognized by the uninformed observer!
There is one “normal” violet species that is much like most other
violets worldwide. This is the lovely, low-growing, deciduous species Viola
kauaiensis. As its
name suggests, it is found on the island of Kauai.
It is a stemmed (having both leaves and flowers on the same stem) species
with rounded glaborous (smooth, hairless) leaves.
The fragrant flowers are white and the petals are heavily suffused with
violet on the reverse. The rounded,
rather than heart-shaped, leaves would serve to distinguish the Kauai violet
from any form of the sweet violet,
-- a common garden escapee that has naturalized on many of the Hawaiian
The other violets of Hawaii are most unusual for they are woody plants
that may grow from one to six feet high! They
bring to mind the “tree violets” once popular with earlier generations,
which were made by carefully training sweet or Parma violets from a runner.
Unlike those man-made violet trees, which needed to be tied to a stake
for support, the Hawaiian species are truly woody and resemble a small shrub.
As untypical as these plants may be, the flowers and seed pods are
unmistakably violets. Possibly the most widespread is V.
the woody Hawaiian violet, which is found on Oahu and nearby islands. Although it varies somewhat from island to island, the
differences are mainly in the color of the flower and the length of the leaf.
The flowers vary from creamy to more or less pink and are quite delicate
and lovely. The novelty of finding true violet blossoms on a
woody-stemmed plant only enhances their charm.
There are several other species of woody-stemmed violets on the Hawaiian
Islands. In addition to the
deciduous ‘Kauai’ violet and the ‘Woody Hawaiian’ violet previously
mentioned, Kauai is home to two less widespread species, V.
(also found on Lanai) and V. wailenalenae.
The ‘Maui Woody’ violet, V.
is found on both Maui and Hawaii.
The beautiful mountain ranges of Oahu are the place to look for
(from Koolau) and on the Wainae Range, V.
chamissoniana. Finally, a
vigorous-looking beauty aptly named V. robusta can be found on Molokai.
It would seem that the Hawaiian violets deserve a place in the
horticultural trade. They would be an unusual and welcome addition to any
mixed collection of “exotics”
for the Northern greenhouse or windowsill garden.
Additionally, it can be expected that they would be hardy in gardens in
the warmer southern areas of the United States and Europe.
In Violets of the United States
Barnes and Company, 1976, p. 159), author Doretta Klaber suggests that
the woody violet species can probably be propagated by layering or perhaps by
rooting cuttings in sand. She
remarks that “a well-drained soil
rich in humus seems to fulfill their needs.”